The church is a many-layered concept; each containing its own special qualities. Each is a fundamental piece of God's great plan to help us find our way to a relationship with Him.
When used in common parlance, "I'm going to church", "turn left at the church" we picture a building. It can be a modest little country church with an offset fellowship hall and a three room parsonage; a gothic, multi-spired cathedral with stunning statuary and thrilling acoustics; or an imposing "mega-church" that looks like a cross between a football stadium and the Mall of America. No matter the size or architecture, this church is a place where saints and sinners alike can come together to offer worship, seek understanding, and grow in community.
Every Sunday in our building, the congregation at Jacksonville First United Methodist professes its belief in "the holy catholic church". This church is a foundational idea that is a key to the development of our faith. We believe the teaching of the Book of Romans that, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Rom. 10:3), and we believe that everyone means everyone. It doesn't matter if they are in Methodist buildings, Presbyterian buildings, Eastern Orthodox buildings, or buildings that don't even have a formal affiliation. The catholic church-the church universal-is what binds all believers through Christ and in the Holy Spirit to all other believers in the great salvation that is at the heart of Christianity.
This brings us to the third church, the people. They gather in the buildings, they share a common belief. Being human, they may disagree about lots of silly things (that they refuse to believe are silly). But, at the core, they believe that God is the Creator of all things; that Jesus was God made flesh who offered Himself up as a perfect sacrifice to atone for our miserable human bent to sin; that this sacrifice allows us an opportunity to live in communion with God through the Holy Spirit. And, if we accept the amazing grace offered us, we can be a part of the life everlasting. The people that believe this, then, become unified in a Royal Priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). We have the opportunity (actually the responsibility) to share with each other and with people who don't know how great our God is; and that He is working in us and in the world to bring about a new world-a perfect world-that we can live in with Him forever.
This Sunday, we celebrate this third church. We celebrate that we are all part of the Royal Priesthood. We thank God for Pastor Nathan and Bishop Mueller; we're grateful that they have accepted the responsibility that comes with joining the clergy, but we understand that all of us-ALL of us-are called to be active members of this incredible thing we call the church.